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[ Dhamma Talk ]

2500 Years before Freud

...and still light years ahead

This is a comment on one section of [MN 20] The Middle Length Sayings, I, #20: The Forms of Thought, PTS, Horner trans. pp 154.[1]

Here we have a situation where a beggar intent on vision attends to whatever may be the subject of his thoughts considering it from the aspect of what is skillful and what is not skillful.

What is not skillful is thought associated with wanting, wanting to get away from, and blindness (he may be blind, but he recognizes confusion — "I understand I do not understand").

If the subject of his thought is not skillful, he should change the subject.

Then, if changing the subject does not give him an escape from the unskillful, he should consider the danger in the unskillful. (Can you see that he has, by that, taken his mind off the unskillful?)

Then, if considering the danger in the unskillful is unsuccessful as a means to avoid the unskillful, he should bring about forgetfulness (asati-amanasikaara)[2] of and inattention to the unskillful thoughts (get up, move around, do something distracting, put yourself to something useful — do all this mentally if you are able).

Then, if having brought about forgetfulness and inattention is unsuccessful as a means to avoid the unskillful, he should (Horner):

"...attend to the thought function and form of those thoughts. While he is attending to the thought function and form of those thoughts, those that are evil unskilled thoughts associated with desire and associated with aversion and associated with confusion, these are got rid of, these come to an end. By getting rid of these the mind subjectively steadies, calms, is one-pointed, concentrated. Monks, even as it might occur to a man who is walking quickly: 'Now, why do I walk quickly? Suppose I were to walk slowly?' It might occur to him as he was walking slowly: 'Now, why do I walk slowly? Suppose I were to stand?' It might occur to him as he was standing: 'Now, why do I stand? Suppose I were to sit down?' It might occur to him as he was sitting down: 'Now, why do I sit down? Suppose I were to lie down?' — even so, monks, the man, having abandoned the very hardest posture, might take to the easiest posture itself. Even so, monks, if while the monk has brought about attention to the thought function and form of those thoughts, those that are evil unskilled thoughts associated with desire and associated with aversion and associated with confusion, these are got rid of, these come to an end. From getting rid of these, his mind subjectively steadies, calms, is one-pointed, concentrated."

Then, if attending to the thought function and form of those thoughts is unsuccessful as a means to avoid the unskillful, he should set his jaw and using his force of will, he should overpower his own mind.

Managing his mind in one or another or any combination of these ways he has come to the state of master of his mind and he is able to think what he wishes and not be dictated to in his thoughts by his mind and he has mastered the method and has cut off wanting and cut down the bonds and if he manages to control his pride, he has made an end of Dukkha.

So what is the meaning of this "attending to the thought function and form" that we have here?

In mechanism of action (thought function) what it is is:

Taking an emotion (in the simile equal to running) and understanding that an emotion is the running together of a number of separate thoughts such that they have lost their distinguishing individualities and characteristic of logic and reasoning, and all that remains perceptable is the mixture of sensations — pleasant, unpleasant, and neither pleasant nor unpleasant.

Taking the individual thoughts (walking slowly) in their form of logic and reasoning and bringing them back to their origin in questions related to wanting and wanting to get away from or in wanting to clear up confusion (standing still).

Placing them into perspective with regard to skillful and unskillful conditions (i.e., that such desires do not conduce to the vision which is the original objective, that even if successfully worked out and executed they bring about at best temporary satisfactions, that they are, in fact, thoughts subserviant to the temporary, to the not-self, and to the painful) (sitting down); and letting them go (lying down).

In practice the result (form) will look like the symbolism "discovered" by Freud. (I direct your attention to "The Interpretation of Dreams"[3].) The "emotion" will be the wanting of the infant; and the individual thoughts, questions, will always come down to one's relationship with "mother and father".

Here the Pali and the Freudian methods part company. Freud suggests that by such an analysis, leading back to the perception of the origin of unskillful emotions in the infant's wants and needs with relation to the parents, a release of infantile frustration (catharsis) will result in the opportunity of the adult mind to re-evaluate in adult terms and more rationally cope with the environment.

This begs the issue as to where this adult mind gets the information as to what is and what is not an adult response, but that is another story.

The Pali takes another tack: it suggests an evaluation of why, precisely, one is in this predicament in the first place — and that the answer will always be that it is the result of not seeing, as it really is, the true nature of living (as temporary, not-self and inevitably painful) and the advantages of letting go.

 

§

 

This is an Emotion

 


[1]Available on line at:
ATI: The Relaxation of Thoughts, Translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, and
ATI: The Removal of Distracting Thoughts, Translated from the Pali by Soma Thera.

[2]How exactly those who profess the supersufficiency of vipassana (that is, according to their version: continuously paying attention) will reconcile themselves with this is a matter of curiosity for me.

[3]PDF file Freud's Interpretation of Dreams

 

§

 

On this same set of techniques for dealing with the unskillful, see also, Bhikkhu Thanissaro: Meditations: Fabrication


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